Second-year goalkeeper Zach Wells is all but assured of starting between the pipes for the MetroStars when the 2005 season kicks off on April 2, but beyond that, there is only uncertainty.
Jonny Walker, the Metros' starter since the middle of the 2003 season, had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in November, and though both he and coach Bob Bradley said he is progressing nicely, Bradley said Walker will not be ready for the start of the season. Wells has been up to the task this preseason, and he says he'd like to take advantage of his opportunity to start.
"I think that I've shown enough where the coaches and the players are confident that I can get the job done," Wells said at the club's media day Monday in New York. "As a young goalkeeper, this is kind of the best opportunity you get to step in and play, when the established starter is injured."
In Kansas City last season, Wizards substitute 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi stepped in for the injured Tony Meola late in the summer, and though Meola eventually regained his health, Oshoniyi retained the starting spot. Oshoniyi is now the unquestioned starter for Bob Gansler's side, and Meola is no longer with the Wizards.
Whether Wells can permanently take over the starting spot is a question that will not be answered any time soon. Bradley plans to allow both 'keepers the opportunity to compete for the position once Walker is healthy. Walker said he's used to such competition, having made the rounds with a handful of South American clubs earlier in his career.
"There's always competition anywhere you go, and that's the great thing about Zach," Walker said. "He's put in his time. He's worked relatively hard. It's good that he's there, and if the chance is there, he'll be able to step up and do his job. From my standpoint, the best thing I can do for the club is get the shoulder better."
Less than two weeks prior to the start of the season, Walker has yet to take part in full training or taken shots at game speed, but according to Bradley, he has begun to practice "easy diving," and Walker said he has a "fantastic range of motion." Walker said it would be "ludicrous" to say he can play a part at the start of the season, but neither Walker nor Bradley would pinpoint a firm return date.
When Walker does return, he could face a battle with more than one person. Former Chicago Fire 'keeper Henry Ring, who was traded to FC Dallas this offseason before being released by the Texas club, participated in the Metros' preseason training in Ecuador last month, and though he was not with the team in Trinidad last week, he could still end up in Bradley's plans. However, Bradley pointed out that there are a few obstacles to obtaining the 2004 Eastern Conference All-Star.
"He's not out of the picture. There's still a lot to be determined in terms of Henry's situation," Bradley said. "Dallas still owns his rights. There are other teams in the league that are still somewhat interested. At the moment, we have two goalies on our senior roster and the possibility of another goalie on our developmental roster. So, there's a lot still there, but he's still someone that we are considering."
A three-way competition for one spot in the lineup might prove daunting for some 'keepers, but both Wells and Walker are up for the challenge.
"It's just more competition," Wells said. "[Ring] has a little more experience than I do, but I think since I've been at this club for a longer period of time, I don't think the coaches and players would have any qualms about having me in net or him."
Said Walker: "There are no expectations from my part. I've been doing this a great number of years, and there are no guarantees in anybody's contract. All I can do is take care of myself."
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.